An initiative in which UEFA is a prime mover aims to see further progress in the way that international football matches are hosted in the future.
European football's governing body, European cities, clubs and fans pledged at a seminar in Barcelona to do their utmost to make visiting a football match – especially as a visiting fan coming to another city – a festive and positive experience.
The Fan Hosting Seminar, held under the theme Football, Host Cities and RESPECT, was proposed by UEFA and the city of Barcelona, and its objective was to share experiences of staging international football matches – and look at ways of promoting respect for fair play and reducing public order difficulties at such events. On Monday, a declaration of goodwill was signed by European cities and football clubs to promote respect for fair play within cities staging international matches.
"European club competitions began in the mid 1950s but we've never had a meeting bringing together UEFA, national associations, cities, clubs and supporters to discuss what happens when two clubs meet in a European competition," said William Gaillard, adviser to the UEFA president.
UEFA took the opportunity at the seminar to present the Champions Festival – the celebration of football in which a variety of events are proposed to fans at the match venue in the days leading up to the UEFA Champions League final each season.
"When you have a great event like the UEFA Champions League final or a EURO final, you have a city playing host to two visiting sets of people, and the city becomes a landscape which accommodates this great event," said Gaillard. "What happens during the group stage or knockout phase of our competitions is very different. There is one set of fans, one club, one city that plays host – and one set of fans, a club and citizens of a city who are guests. And perhaps there's a fear [about the guests].
"Yet these people are normal human beings that enjoy exactly the same things, albeit perhaps in a different way, because they may come from a different culture. But they're part of a different tribe with a different allegiance. The question is how do you bring these two groups together? After all, we have a lot in common – we have the same passion, we have the same game."
Gaillard emphasised that a European match should be viewed as an exciting opportunity for a city to welcome visitors and show its positive face. In addition, preparations for hosting fans at international matches should be as comprehensive as possible. "If this seminar succeeds," he said, "before any game in which a lot of supporters will travel, [dialogue] should take place involving the clubs, the supporters' associations, the police forces, the two mayors of the cities. Discussions should centre on what is to be done to ensure that everyone enjoys both the visit and the welcoming of the other group of fans [for the match].
"Many times, the same clubs meet in our competitions. We can accumulate knowledge, so that ten years from now [when] there will be clubs which will have met three or four times, their mayors will know each other, people in charge of public order will know each other.
"This is just the beginning of a process," Gaillard concluded. "I hope that in the years to come, [this dialogue] will provide a better environment whereby people will find it a normal occurrence to welcome or visit somebody else's city and enjoy the experience and come back very much enriched."
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